HIV, Hep-C Tests for Jail

The Barnes County Corrections Center in Valley City is in the beginning stages of procuring the means for rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing of inmates brought to the facility.

“It’s a decision made by the state, not by us,” said Valley City-Barnes County Health District Director Theresa Will on Wednesday.

Will said that the jail currently takes swabs to test for HIV but does not get results for about five or six days, and that those tests are being phased out. So far jail staff has not been trained in using the rapid tests.

“We’re just starting to look into it,” Will said. “I know that (rapid testing) is what the state is going to, I’m pretty sure the state will supply the HIV testing kits like they do now.”

The rapid tests use a finger stick to draw blood and provide immediate results, but Will was not sure what the margin of error on the tests were.

The jail currently does not routinely test for Hepatitis C unless there is a specific request or reason to test for it, and Will was not aware of a rise in cases of the disease.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the City County Health District Board, board member and Barnes County Commissioner Cindy Schwehr said it would be good for jail staff to have that information available to them in a timely manner.

“In enclosed environment, if you get a skirmish and blood is exchanged, then I suppose the county’s liable too,” Schwehr said. “Because if someone didn’t have it when they go in and they have it when they go out, well something happened.”

Two-thirds of all reported people living with HIV/AIDS in the state are males between the ages of 25 and 44, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. That same age and gender demographic also made up one-third of all arrests in North Dakota last year according to the State Attorney General’s “Crime in North Dakota 2011” report.

CCHD board member and City Commissioner Dr. Madeline Luke said testing at the jail would help reach a major portion of the population that are vulnerable to HIV infection, but hopes the state makes funding available for the testing transition.

“It’s a good public health measure but the question is who’s going to pay for it,” Luke said. “If you can get State Health Department help to pay for it that would be something we should do because that is a high-risk population.”